I don’t go to many concerts by myself, but the tickets for this show sold so quickly that it was impossible to buy a pair. I got a ticket for each show, gave one to a friend as a birthday present, sold one, and kept one. So, on Monday evening, I went to a concert uptown at the United Palace Theater. When I say uptown, I mean way uptown. I got on the A Train and rode all the way to 175th Street. This was definitely the furthest north in Manhattan I have ever been, but the theater, located only a block from the subway on Broadway, is definitely worth the trip. The theater opened originally in 1930 as a Loew’s movie palace, and then was bought by Christ Community United Church in 1969. Now, in addition to being a church, it acts as a concert hall, showcasing such acts as Bjork, Bloc Party, Iggy and the Stooges, and now, Arcade Fire.
I arrived at the theater a little before eight and stood outside for a moment, taking it in, while Martha Plimpton smoked a cigarette and swore a lot next to me. As I entered and had my bag searched, I realized that the opening band, The National, was already playing. They had an interesting sound, a little bit like Wolf Parade, but more shouting, and, well, not as good. They thanked Arcade Fire a dozen times or so, and finished up there set. A half hour later, the lights went out and people stood, as five small televisions came on with a female minister ranting about God and love. It was an interesting way to open a show, especially while at a church. Arcade Fire seem fond of playing churches, as they played at Judson Memorial Church back in February. The neon logo of their new album came out, as well as five neon poles going around the stage.
The group began their set with “Black Mirror,” and from minute one the crowd was responding. It was an interesting crowd as well. Arcade Fire have blown up at this point, and seem to have a very wide fan base. There were hipsters, aging hippies, young hippies, frat boys, kids with their parents, goth kids, nicely dressed girls with pearls, kids with dreadlocks, even a few young republicans. Some people danced wildly, some didn’t even stand, some people got high (a few were thrown out for this), some people made out with their significant others, but no one seemed to have any problem with any one else. The band was similar to the crowd, as some stood in place and played their instrument, while others thrashed around on stage, dancing and screaming. A few songs in, the band really hit their stride with “Haiti,” a Regine Chassagne penned song. The grandeur of the band was apparent here, as there is such a wide variety of instruments being played at once. Some band members would switch instruments mid-song, running from one part of the stage to the other.
As the concert went on, it never really lost momentum. What I enjoyed about the first half of the show was how anonymous the band was. There was no clear leader of the troupe, and each instrument was given a spotlight. Sadly, towards the end, Win Butler started to showboat a little bit, running out into the crowd and then making sure his microphone was in the front the stage. The music didn’t get any worse, but it was still a bit distracting. A little later, Butler addressed the crowd saying “We’ll see you back here tomorrow, same time, same place!” to which the crowd cheered. He then added “Because that’s how you guys work right? You go on eBay and have thousands of dollars and just spend all your time and money on rock shows?” The crowd was a bit confused by this, some even booing. To be fair, it is partially true, but it still felt like kind of a shitty thing to say to a crowd of fans, especially right before the finale.
All the same, the group ended with an incredible rendition of “Rebellion (Lies),” even though Win’s throat still sounded a bit shaky at times from his recent sinus and bronchial surgery. They came back for a quick encore, singing “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and “Intervention.” Once they had gone, it took the crowd a while to realize (or accept) that they wouldn’t be coming back on for a second encore. And thus everyone shuffled outside and walked toward the closest A stop to return downtown, or to Brooklyn or from wherever they had come.